Blessings, amidst disappointments

“There was thick black oil at the beach today so I couldn’t swim…but as it happens, something else came along that got me hooked. It flew in the air, gracefully at times, jerky at other times. Someone was holding it by a string. What kind of creature was that? I jumped, trying to catch it! I couldn’t take my eyes off it. And then there was another dog at the beach, and I watched her. Went to the beach wanting to swim but left with some unexpected new enjoyable experiences…”

~ Max who has something to teach us about learning to watch out for blessings in initial disappointments. :)

Reach out, nearby

What could you do for low-income workers near you?

There are some new workers from China near where I life. I would usually pass one of them and he would always be looking down, sweeping. Every time I passed him, I tried to make eye contact and smile.

Initially, he looked away (and I recalled a time when a migrant worker told me that he and his friends were instructed by their employer to not make eye contact with Singaporean women).

But I continued to try and make eye contact whenever I would see him. Then one day, he  looked at me briefly. Then one day, a smile – a breakthrough! :) Then the other day, he actually waved before I did! :))

Today I gave him an angpow (red envelope with money, given during Chinese New Year) and some chocolates and wished him Happy New Year in my broken Chinese. He was beaming.

Another cleaner looked shocked when I did the same for him. Then he smiled and thanked, heartfully.

Also asked the taxi driver to keep the change as “angpow” , a little more than what is usual. Shocked, he said, “Huh?? Really? Thank You!!” (We don’t have a tipping culture here.)

We don’t need to go far to let others know we care about them and wish them well. We are surrounded by opportunities everyday. :) And of course it needn’t be money that we give. A smile can go a long way to show them that we acknowledge them as human beings.

The Holstee Manifesto

I love this!

One small difference of opinion would be that sometimes it’s possible to change the way we think and feel about our jobs enough for us to stay and enjoy it. We don’t always have to quit – and neither is that feasable always.

Nevertheless, an inspiring poster!

Get it from Holstee. And check them out. Their business has heart and soul.


Of strangers and parents…

Here’s my unpublished letter to The Sunday Times.

I refer to”Mind your chides” (Sunday Times, 1 Jan), in which we learnt about how Mr Abdul stopped two toddlers from hurting a cat, and received sarcastic comments from the boys’ father who apparently said, “It’s only an animal.”

To Mr Abdul: I am inspired by your compassion and courage to protect the cat from harm. It seems like you interacted with the children in a gentle and peaceful way, instead of scolding them. I admire this too.

To the boys’ father: I empathise with how you may just have wanted your children to play freely.

And I admit that about 20 years ago, I shared similar thoughts about animals.  However I’ve learned that animals have beauty and strengths, can feel pain and suffering, are vulnerable and usually powerless against us.

Your children are also vulnerable and cannot protect themselves.If someone were to harm your children when you are not around, how would you like strangers to respond?

Imagine being vulnerable, with less power yourself – perhaps atwork? Let’s say someone took advantage of this and treated you with little compassion and dignity. How would you like someone else with more power to address this?

To us all: AsI’ve grown older, I’ve experimented with being more open and less defensive when I get feedback from people on how I could be more mindful or compassionate. The result? More growth, which had led to more joy. Of course, it’s easier to take when feedback is given in a graceful way. So there’s a lesson for us all who give feedback to try and use a peaceful approach, like I believe Mr Abdul did.

Researchers have found that one of the keys to a joyful life is compassion. Our joy is tied up in how we treat ourselves and others, including cats.

Vadivu Govind (Ms)

Hello Stranger

“Hello Stranger” is an online space that publishes letters to strangers. It’s all
about connection.  Here’s my chat with Carol Chan who started it. It’s run by her and Dawn Toh.



Vadivu: What led you to its creation?

Carol: I guess two things that came together at that point in life. I’ve always been writing and working on creative projects. At that time I was an arts administrator and really wanted more ‘life’/ everyday, personal stories to be presented in a creative/ ‘literary’ way, somewhere accessible.

The obvious outlet would be online… The first vague idea was a kind of portal where people would just submit whatever they had, and we would include stories by people from ‘all walks of life’, whatever that means- I think in general there’s a sense by many of our generation- this need for more diverse stories, to capture a sense of what it’s like to live in

Anyway, yes, and at this same time I was also volunteering with HOME [an initiative to help migrant workers in Singapore] and hearing their stories regularly, feeling like there are two segments of Singapore community that just wasn’t connecting.

On the one hand the elite Singaporean writers, who may write about their own semi-sheltered experiences (myself included), or try to speak and present stories by migrants/ ‘others’ in Singapore. On the other hand, those with really amazing, tragic, funny, insightful observations and stories, whose stories don’t really get any real/meaningful coverage or outlet for their expression in Singapore

So these came together quite spontaneously through Hello Stranger.

The idea is to think about all the strangers in the city, and the stories they could tell you, and you, them. I guess!!


Vadivu: So what have you observed thus far with the letters that have come in? As well as the process of implementing it?

Carol: I don’t know what I’ve learned… but the letters (& stories people have told me when they learn about Hello Stranger) keep me wondering why people are afraid to be honest, maybe.

Process of implementing it- that it’s difficult to get people to participate actually. Many people have ideas, or love the idea, but don’t necessarily want to write. Though I think writing is a process that’s fundamentally different from just telling someone else a story, or thinking/talking aloud to yourself. Also people wonder ‘what’s the point’ (and
sometimes I wonder too), and that’s been tricky. It’s difficult now to not
conceive of a project or do something- anything, like drawing or writing- for
its own sake. There has to be a ‘point’, and end product or some result,
something you can point to and say ‘hoorah we changed the world/ one person’ or
‘i sewed and got a hat’ or ‘i wrote and published a book’. Writing and drawing
and reading in themselves are being increasingly less valued…


Vadivu: Who would you like to reach out to?

Carol: No, anyone really… Take away, just to say hello to the next stranger they see. nothing profound ;)

I actually often feel like approaching strangers and there’s a moment you have to decide to act on it or not- and sometimes I overthink it such that it never happens. Often the ones I overthink are the ones I find most intriguing. Once on the MRT there was this little old lady. She was really small, smaller than I am, and really well dressed. I could see
the powder on her face, her carefully drawn lipstick. She was well dressed in
that sort of regal way, really dignified, and she was taking the MRT- that’s not
common. I wanted to ask her where she was going, and tell her she really looked
beautiful (I mean after all that effort, she deserves to be told by
appreciative strangers!) but I thought she might be creeped out, etc. And
didn’t. Most of the time I’m also conscious of other Singaporeans on the MRT.

Here in Pittsburgh I feel that less, people talk to strangers all the time on
the bus, and it’s a beautiful thing.

I’m also constantly fascinated by how quickly strangers can be become friends. Yesterday I shared a table with this guy in the cafe. He started talking to me, and by the end of an hour we’d learn enough about each other, and he wasn’t the ‘dude with macbook across table’ anymore but this real person with thoughts, fears and dreams. In a way these
interactions give me hope that all is not lost, humans are not an entirely
cruel, selfish, greedy race.

I imagine each encounter to be a small revolution.

Ps: Here’s my letter to a stranger…

My Last Words

Last year I did an experiment to live as if it was my final year to live. I didn’t blog about it directly as much but many other things I blogged about, did include this lens I put on.

I haven’t strung the lessons from the experiment into a coherent post yet but I wanted to share with you my last words for now.

Love, Wisdom, Truth, Service, Growth and Joy.

I have a new venture, Joy Works. And I realised that the virtues important for the organisation are exactly the six words which would be the foundation of my last words before my “death”. Read about them at the Joy Works website.

An ending has laid ground for a new beginning… it feels incredible that I can create something from my life lessons.